Saturday, December 21, 2019

The shortest day (again)

December 21 is a day that resonates in my memory, for a range of reasons, and back in 2012 I wrote a post exploring some of the background and reasons why. (That post is here: .) Re-reading that post recently, I enjoyed it all over again, and decided to repeat it this year. The original text follows.

One of my vivid memories from childhood is my father relishing this day, which seemed odd to me then, what with the days shortening and the nights closing in, and of course colder and rainier weather. But he always said, “Now the days will be getting longer,” and of course, so they will.
     What hadn’t occurred to me in those days was that humans for many, many centuries have had the same feelings about this day that my dad did, and in more primitive times, for better reasons.
     Ever since my wife and I discovered the performances known as Christmas Revels, we have attended here in the Bay Area, more years than not. Revels was created by John Langstaff in 1957, and the tradition gradually grew and extended over the years. Today Christmas Revels is performed in nine cities around the country (for the location of those cities, you can visit their map at this link: , and from there go to their home page to learn more about their history and what Revels is).
     A favorite part for me of the performance of every Christmas Revels is the reading, toward the end, of a poem by Susan Cooper, written for Revels in 1977 and for me a delight. I reproduce it below, with permission from Cooper, to whom I wrote an email and requested the use. (The poem is all over the Internet, in both written and spoken form, though often mis-punctuated and sometimes with words changed — imagine the nerve!)
     She sent me a copy of it as she wrote it, so that it could be presented correctly. (If you’d like to know more about her, you can go to her web site at: .) She also mentioned that she was happy to give permission for use in this blog, as she is descended from three generations of English railwaymen!


By Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen,
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing, behind us -- listen!
All the long echoes sing the same delight
This shortest day
As promise wakens in the sleeping land.
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends, and hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year, and every year.
Welcome Yule!

     A far more eloquent presentation of our traditions than I could ever have written. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Tony Thompson


  1. My daughters and I attended many Revels productions in Oakland when they were young. It was one of the highlights of our Christmas Season. Their music teacher in grade school was so enamored with the production, that when my youngest was in 5th grade, they put on a version of a Christmas Revel with the whole 5th grade class--the music, the dancing, all of it. Have a Merry Christmas, Tony!

  2. Thanks, Lisa, and very Happy Holidays to you and your family. We have always enjoyed any Revels we attended, especially the English/Scottish/Welsh/Irish ones. A real holiday treat!
    Tony Thompson